Some times things don’t always go the way you want, or even close to it. You can look at these difficulties as reasons to stop, to give up. But, I think that it’s actually the norm, and when things go right, that’s the reward for persevering. That being said there is a lot you can do to help things to go right and to try to stop as much as you can from going south.
I started a small, albeit ambitious, wee production called Breathe, it was to be a violent, dark, short with an underwater knife fight at night in the center of the story. Shooting at night is tricky, shooting in the water is tricky, shooting at night, in the water, well, as David Bowie says, it aint easy.
Ryan Tarran, Stephen Murdock and I had previously made a wee short fight scene as a bit of a test as well as an opportunity for me to learn how to shoot action. It was a big learning experience in many ways. You can read a bit about it here and here, you can also check out the finished fight scene we did below:
After the number of positive comments we got on our fight scene we wanted to do something bigger and better. We all work in the industry so getting time to do our projects can be very difficult. After we showed people the fight scene Ryan, Glenn and Steve all got jobs on the Hobbit, which was great, but it meant we had to wait for that to end before we could keep going with our projects. That was the first hurdle, waiting for every one.
Once we had every one back in the country, and the rest of our team assembled, we were all set. I had written the script that we all liked and we now started to plan the stunt work that would be needed and organizing every one and all the elements that are needed for shooting a short film.
Our short was made up of 4 main elements. A violent intrusion into an apartment, a tense confrontation on a pier, a fight under the water and finally a getaway that involves a stunt guy (Glenn Chow) getting hit by a car.
We had done a test earlier, a few weeks back, so we were well versed with the location, the light and what we were trying to do on the first night. So it should be easy, right?
Shoot Day 1
The night we had done the test was cool and the wind was still. The weather is generally like that in the cooler months here in Sydney. The night we planned to shoot was predicted to be the same. But on the night it was cold and windy, and I mean really cold, and really windy!
We had waited so long for the boys to be free and we all had such restricted diary’s with other work that I felt that we should go ahead anyway, so we did.
The wind was bitingly cold and every one was feeling it but no one complained because they are all champs. We had three LED light panels for lighting and I had planned to light almost exclusively with edge lighting and back light if i could, to give a menacing feel.
Because the wind was so blustery we needed more than just a few shot bags on the stands, so our friends were roped in to hold the light stands while we whittled away the night shooting.
Getting people to help out on shoots is not always easy. I remember helping out on shoots when I was a film student and thinking “what am I doing here, I’m not learning anything, this aint fun” and that’s what I want to avoid when I ask people to help out. But when some one is holding a light stand in the night many meters away from the production, in the cold, you can understand that it would not be fun and it would be quite lonely. Thankfully my friends are understanding people so they didn’t complain.
But what did happen was that I worried about them, I was already the Writer, the Director, the producer, the DOP and even the caterer. Suddenly I felt the weight of all these rolls on my shoulders and I started having a lot of trouble focusing. I tried to manage what was happening next, what my actors need to get ready for, what my cam assist Kieran could do to help get things moving, what the crew needed to keep warm from the unexpected weather, what was the next shot.
Maybe My Character just punches him?
My actors/Stunt guys were super keen, but they also wanted to try to squeeze in more action in instead of the dialogue. There was not a huge amount of dialogue but they are always interested in doing more action. We got through the first few shots on the shot list when I was thrown a curve ball: “What if instead of this dialogue scene, Mike stands up and rushes the thugs and they fight on the pier before falling into the water”
If we had been on a different shoot I probably would have held my ground and said “that it didn’t fit the feel of the script but thanks for the ideas, we will shoot as planed.” But because it was so cold and windy and unpleasant, and because I was so stressed with every thing that we need to do, and because every one was looking to me to lead the way, because I wanted every one to feel that it was worth being there I said OK, let’s do that.
It’s not that it’s a bad idea, or that it really makes the story any less, but it does make you feel like suddenly you are not telling the same story you had hopped to.
That night I let the stress and the conditions get to me and suddenly this was not the film I planned to make. We moved through the shot list as best as we could, adding the fight scene on top of the pier, covering the close-ups of the victims. But we never actually got into the water, which had been the plan for the night.
We called it a night early based on fears that we may not have had enough light under the water. We had done the test and knew that it wasn’t really a problem but no one wanted to get into the water that night and I was so dejected, so we all were happy to swallow the excuse.
We went home, unhappy. I felt terrible. I felt I had let every one down. Later that night I loaded up the footage we had shot. It was not what I had imagined, but it still looked quite cool.
Take a look at a very rough compile of some of what we shot that night:
Shoot Day 2
We shot the night on the pier on the Tuesday the next shoot day was to be again at the pier to finish the underwater fight that Thursday night. I didn’t have time on the Wednesday or Thursday during the day to make any arraignments to try to tackle the biggest glaring problem we had encountered, that I was trying to do too many jobs and I was sinking.
That night I had a van full of gear for the shoot as well as the gear from the day of shooting for one of my clients. As I rushed home to get ready for the shoot it started to rain. I didn’t have rain covers for my lights and the idea of spending the night in the rain was very unappealing. Every one was asking if the shoot was off. Part of me wanted it to be. I wanted to cry defeat and give up. But our man Matt Graham suggested we try doing the apartment scene at his place. He saved us that night.
Matt quickly took over producing duties and contacted every one and informed them we would be shooting at his apartment and doing the apartment scene.
I was late to the new location, I HATE being late, again I was flustered as every one was waiting for me and we were under the pump as we had a time limit before we would be kicked out by Matt’s girlfriend.
We quickly went through the script with every one and made a basic plan. The shot was to be almost a single steadicam move. That caused a bunch of problems with how we light the place as the camera turns 360 degrees around the room.
All of this was OK and par for the course. What happened next was a bit of a shock (though it shouldn’t have been)
INT. APARTMENT. NIGHT
The door is busted in violently. Three large men storm into the apartment. Anne is shocked. Mike gets up to face them but is just as quickly laid to the ground with a heavy hit to the head by the first man, knocking him back, breaking a glass.
The noise of three stunt guys busting into the apartment and going full steam into a fight with Steve was surprisingly intense. The neighbors were suddenly very concerned. Matt’s apartment was suddenly under assault and once CUT was called we were down one broken vase, a busted picture frame and fake blood had ended up on Matt’s nice White couch. We were not going to have to worry about Matt’s girlfriend kicking us out, Matt was going to murder us then and there!
Here is one of the more quiet take:
Thankfully he didn’t and thankfully his attitude is one of “in for a penny, in for a pound” so we still needed to do several takes and Matt gave us the go ahead. We had a quick talk with some of the neighbors, which we really should have done before we started.
That night we got most of what we were after with the shoot. It wasn’t exactly as I had imagined, primarily we didn’t have much time. So there was little opportunity to light with any finesse. Even with the MettaBones SpeedBooster on the AF100 i was still pushing the iso up to 800 and 1600. This makes the already not-so-sharp AF100 even more soft and critical focus can be hard to judge. Even with the iso boost we were still under exposing a fair bit.
What’s the Plan Again?
Originally I wanted to make a really nice looking short with strong images, nice lighting and good composition. What we shot was almost run and gun. We simply didn’t have time and I was trying to do too much. So much of film production is compromise and this short is no exception but it was possibly too much compromise for my liking.
I was happy with my Steadicam work and the performances of the stunts and action was great. But the ‘acting’ elements like the dialogue were not as strong as I would have liked and we simply didn’t cover what we needed as I let my self get confused. All of these issues stem from the same problems, not having enough time and trying to do too much myself.
I could have involved others in the production in a greater way and earlier on. Kieran my camera assist could have been more involved with the planing and shooting of the scenes and I could have let Matt Graham have a stronger role as producer from the start. That way I could have had more of an opportunity to direct and stay focused.
OK What Next?
So we had two night shoots under our belt and after a bit of chance to reflect over the images we had captured form the first night. And it wasn’t too bad. We had the makings of something kinda cool, not quite what I had planed but entertaining none the less.
Primarily there is the need to not give up. There are too many half-finished and abandoned projects out there. Even if things don’t go the way we wanted we were going to finish.
The next step was to organize the next shoot night to complete the water scene and to plan the car hit. Glenn Chow was the man who was going to be hit by the car, so he went about doing some practice hits with fellow stuntie Mark Duncan of Twin Star Stunts fame.
Take a look at ChowMan’s car hit practice below:
But that’s where we hit another hitch. Steve and Ryan were both going to be working on the new Mad Max Film as the Mad Max team were doing some re-shooting. So again we were stitched up with time. On one side Ryan was not free till mid November, on the other Steve was soon to have his head shaved for Mad Max so would look very different!
We are currently trying to fit in another night of shooting into every ones busy schedules. At least its a bit warmer now so getting in the water wont be so unappealing and this time I am going to get in some help so I am no longer the Director, Producer, DOP and the caterer. We are going to keep going and finish the film. One thing I learned from the swat fight shoot was that its worth finishing it. At the time of that shoot I was ready to format the media I was so unhappy with what we had captured. But once we edited it and added some sound effects it was very convincing and no one noticed that some of the shots were out of focus or that we left the mats in shot occasionally. People want to be entertained, if you can do that they will forgive you for a lot.
We will get this finished and move on to the next project, or maybe, if we really like it, we could re shoot the whole thing with a better plan. But for now we still need to shoot the Water Fight and the Car hit. It should be interesting a least so I’ll keep you all updated as we go.
What we have so far:
- Taking on to many roles at once means you just don’t do each job properly, in fact you run the risk of doing them all badly.
- Your team is important. If you have positive people around you, then you will find a solution to almost any problem. And you will keep going when you don’t think you can because you team will help you up.
- Share your vision. I didn’t share mine as well as I should and my very capable Camera assistant Kieran told me that he felt under utilized. I could have had him do more so I could have focused on doing what I needed to do properly.
- Keep going. If it’s not working, learn from it and keep trying. Eventually you get better, be it from better skill, planning, people or ideas, it gets better.
I find it very hard to show unfinished footage with out the grade, the editing and effort to make it what it eventually becomes. It’s also hard to talk about your failings some times. I feel it can show you to be not as good as you want to be. And that’s just the thing, I am not as good as I want to be, because I always want to be better. So I’m just going to have to get used to that feeling. Luckily I have great people around me that help me get back up and keep trying. We are capable of creating some amazing looking and effective media, and although this time we may have been off the mark a fair bit, next time will be better. If we are always improving and we keep at it, then the sky is the limit.
If you have any questions about the shoot, or you have any advice on how you can make difficult situations easier, leave them in the comments below and I’ll be sure to reply to them.
I’ll be updating this post with more as we get this little film done. I’ll also put up edited scenes as they are done by our amazing editor Mitch Burkitt.
Again, any questions for me, our actors, stunt guys, Mitch our editor or any one, just sing out and I’ll chase down any info I can.